What must be done-Nasim Zehra

The Gilani government’s cardinal sin has been its inability to comprehensively and competently engage with Pakistan’s fast multiplying problems. Its sin has not been the creation of these problems. Some flow from an accumulated inheritance of many decades, others were aggravated by the bad politics and the unrepresentative character of the previous regime, and the external factors. The external security, military and economic factors abound: the US-led global war on terrorism, the spiralling oil prices, the backbreaking inflation, the sharp downturn in the global economy, leading, for example, to a seven-trillion-dollar loss in a single day last week at the world stock markets, and the rising cost and shortage of food globally. For our own past historical baggage, combined with a penchant for perpetually mismanage our affairs, we are the frontline nation in the global triple meltdown–security, economy and politics–hence suffering the most.

So, does this pose for us as a nation an insurmountable set of problems? Absolutely not. Pakistan has all the ingredients it takes to battle hard times. Above all, a people who are still steeped in a collective good mindset–provided they can see that those leading the “collective good” moves are sincere and capable. With all the cribbing when it comes to the crunch it is a nation still willing to sacrifice for a larger, a higher good. Two, we have the required competence in many fields–commerce, agriculture, education, industry, science, technology and security–to arrest the slide urgently in many areas.

Three, within these competent and skilled people the majority are not dollar-greedy; thousands are willing to chip in to make a credible effort at reviving our fortunes as a viable, vibrant and self-respecting nation. Four, we have models of excellence in every area ranging from industry to education and from technology to health. Even in the area of dispensation of justice we can boast of the efficiently functioning consumer courts in Punjab, on the Motorway law enforcement actually works, in regulation the State Bank works! Five, by virtue of the stark unfolding realities right before their own eyes and combined with the media presence, there is a greater degree of awareness among people of the complexity of the problems, hence the expectation of instant miracles is absent. At one level we are therefore a mature nation, even if intensely, though not irreversibly, disillusioned and angered by the repeated failures of our many- textured rulers. Will this maturity become an asset for those national force seeking to take the nation in these tough times yet remaining within constitutional parameters, through multiple reforms? Or will this maturity repeated disillusioned, transform into cynicism and reactionary mindsets and bloody actions?

Six, the national restiveness and resentment has made people feel they can no longer bank on the state alone to provide the answers. Hence, alongside people’s disappointment and disgust there is also renewed and motivated collective energy looking for “new answers.” Who taps it is the million-dollar question…those who want to create their own sub-states amidst a dilapidated state structure or those who may want to revive the Pakistani state to ensure better administration? Lastly, while pain and disappointment is beginning to spread, still the spirit of the nation is intact, the belief that we can still turn it around lingers close beneath the spreading depression.

Indeed, linked closely to the presence of these ingredients needed to pull us out of our current state is the dreadful reality of all of this going waste, indeed going sour. Signs of the eventuality of the chronic Pakistani optimism and the eternal Pakistani dream of “turning it around” all sliding into chaos are too present.

This clearly means that that now we–as a state, a government and a society, especially the privileged section–no longer have the luxury of functioning in our business-as-usual mode. The question, then, is who can stop this slide? Who can inject discontinuity into the unworkable, if not the illegitimate mode of our state and government’s functioning? Obviously, the political government alone can ensure that. A legitimate mode of functioning is not one that only is manned by elected men and women. Instead, it is one that also delivers successfully on people’s legitimate expectations and on national challenges. Successful functioning involves good politics, competent management and honest and credible leadership.

Especially within the context of Pakistan, where problems are mounting and expectations need to be managed unless the leadership through active personal example will show that it will “walk the talk” itself too, a disgruntled the public will turn to other ways of problem solving presented to them. It doesn’t matter whether it is the Taliban, the labour unions, the BNP or the Jamaat-e-Islami. Whatever the framework for problem solving, be it Baloch nationalism, Shariah enforcement, Marx’s philosophy, people turn to the messiah who promises deliverance.

Lack of political coordination can translate correct steps into half-failures. For example, let’s take the issue of the crisis of internal security. As Pakistan’s government continues to grapple with an acutely complex and compromised security situation its primary and immediate focus on how to revitalise the two law enforcement mechanisms; one in the settled areas and the other in the tribal areas. Steps in the right direction, combining dialogue with the local traditional powers, with the new emerging groups and backing this by smart and sporadic application of force has been made. Yet the national chorus is mostly against the steps taken. Mostly this opposition is a reflection of the government’s failure to convey the parameters of the operation and its objectives to the media, and through it to the public.

Likewise, the government did not fully take its allies on board, especially the PML-N. Interestingly, while within the NWFP the political coordination was better at the national level no real coordination existed.

What is missing in the present government? Lack of accountability of those who are exercising power, the absence of the Parliament as the main forum for policy debate, the failure to develop a workable mode to coordinate policy-making among the ruling coalition, no politically bipartisan working groups on questions like Lal Masjid and the A Q Khan issue that require special handling. On key issues, including the economic crisis, Balochistan, the tribal areas, internal security collective political effort with technocratic input within a Task Force framework is still missing, more transparency in key public and bureaucratic appointments is needed.

These are the minimum steps that the elected government must take to present itself as the legitimate representatives who can pull the country out of the current state. It can be done. It merely requires political will. Pakistan does not have the option to go back to the tried and failed system of a military government or to look towards failed khaki rulers of the past as messiahs for the future.

The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst. Email: nasimzehra@hotmail.com
The News, 9/7/2008

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